Years before Harry Potter was even a glint in JK Rowling’s eye, Mildred Hubble had children all over Britain dreaming of going to a school where flying broomsticks, mixing potions and casting spells were firmly on the timetable.
Jill Murphy’s children’s classic The Worst Witch was first published in 1974, but 45 years later, the story of an ordinary girl who stumbles into a world of witchcraft continues to enthral and enchant young readers.
The stage adaptation, which starts its UK tour at Sheffield’s Lyceum, brings the tale firmly into the 21st Century.
A clever play-within-a-play format sees the characters from Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches presenting their own version of what happened when Mildred accidentally arrived at the school and struggled to get to grips with unusual lessons, stern teachers and jealous pupils who thought witchcraft should just be for girls born into magical families.
The inventive production is full of laughs with a host of witty in-jokes aimed at both Potter fans and the adults in the audience.
The engaging storyline is helped along by plenty of catchy songs, accompanied by a band made up of cast members who play their instruments on stage.
After the interval, there is a change of pace and the gentle and amusing first half makes way for a darker and more serious storyline with impressive special effects, illusions performed on tage and a chance for some audience participation.
Without wanting to give too much away, it is up to Mildred and her friends to save their beloved school from a powerful villain with their own ideas about how the world of magic should be run.
The relatively small all-female cast proved you don’t need large numbers and a flashy set to keep children captivated. Danielle Bird was convincing as the unlikely but likeable heroine Mildred, while Polly Lister was a triumph as she juggled the parts of both the amiable Miss Cackle and her rather less angelic twin.
The Worst Witch will appeal both to fans of the books and children who are new to the stories, as well as grown-ups who can remember the tales from their own childhood.
The Worst Witch is at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield until Saturday, February 2.